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Robert Digges Wimberly Connor was a founding father of the modern North Carolina Office of Archives and History. The Wilson native attended the University of North Carolina, from which he graduated in 1899. Connor then taught in the public schools in Winston and Wilmington, and served in school administration in Wilmington and Oxford. While in Wilmington in 1903, Connor accepted an appointment to the newly formed North Carolina Historical Commission. He worked for four years as the unpaid secretary of the commission while gainfully employed in the public schools or with the Department of Public Instruction, promoting public education through speeches and articles.
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In 1906 Connor accepted a salaried position with the Historical Commission, just as it began to reorganize and take wing. Connor’s stalwart leadership and his investigative mind guided the agency through its early years. With the Historical Commission firmly established in 1920, Connor pursued graduate studies at Columbia University, in preparation for returning to his alma mater to teach. In 1921, he tendered his resignation to accept the Kenan Professorship in History and Government at UNC. While in that post, his contributions to the archival profession were brought to the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. With confirmation of both Connor’s Democratic loyalties and professional reputation, Roosevelt appointed Connor as first Archivist of the United States in 1934. Connor once again found himself having to build an archival program from the ground up, much like he had at the state level in North Carolina. He successfully educated Washington bureaucrats on the need for proper records management, and justified the urgency for protecting records of archival quality. Connor remained Archivist of the United States until 1941, when he returned to teach history at Chapel Hill.
Connor’s devotion to the North Carolina Historical Commission and later the Executive Board of the Department (now Office) of Archives and History continued, as he held tenure as a member and later chairman until his death in 1950. Similarly, he served UNC as Secretary to the Board of Trustees, President of the General Alumni Association, and head of the Department of History and Government.
Ansley Herring Wegner, History For All The People: 100 Years of Public History in North Carolina (2003)
Henry S. Stroupe, “The North Carolina Department of Archives and History: The First Half Century,” North Carolina Historical Review (April 1954): 184-200